Empire Ears Empire Studio Reference (E.S.R)

  1. toaster22
    Empire Ears ESR
    Written by toaster22
    Published Oct 15, 2018
    Pros - Balanced Sound, solid craftsmanship for a universal, nice cable
    Cons - Some slight harshness in the treble
    Empire Ears ESR Review

    Empire ears is unquestionably one of the top companies in the IEM game right now. I’ve heard their TOTL Legend X and it is a uniquely powerful IEM with a sound signature to match. Jack and Co. spent two years working on developing the dual W9 subs and they are like nothing else I’ve ever heard.

    But alas, these musings are not about the LX, but rather one of the company’s more modest offerings: the ESR.

    Per EE’s website, the ESR is the company’s “flattest in-ear monitor.” To my ears that seems a fitting description, as all frequencies are presented with more or less the same emphasis.

    Here are some notes from my listening:

    - Vocals seem ever so slightly pulled back from instruments, to avoid becoming over-emphasized

    - The ESR seems to shine at presenting instruments in the mid and lower frequencies; it is capable of presenting pleasant, rich sounding tone and timbre for instruments like pianos and cellos

    - The ESR’s have an energetic and engaging sound…if you’re looking for a smooth and laid back signature, you won’t find it here. At times things did get a little harsh to my sensitive ears, but I think exploring different tip options (which I did not have time to do) could mitigate some of this harshness.

    - Bass is relatively neutral…again, in line with EE’s goal of a creating flat response. Texture is good; it’s not the fastest or most detailed low-end, but it is a quality low-end that any audiophile not expecting TOTL performance would likely be pleased with.

    - One area I feel the ESR can improve on is its staging and imaging abilities. Perhaps my experience with LX just blew any expectations through the roof, but I feel the overall staging of the ESR is a bit flat; it can be tough to accurately pinpoint the depth or true position of a particular instrument in more complex music. That said, overall separation of instruments and details is fairly good.

    - The included Effect Audio Ares II cable is highly respected around the HF community, and I think it’s awesome that EE didn’t overlook this detail when considering what cable to include with the ESR.

    - Craftsmanship of these universal monitors seems very good. They are unassuming and non-flashy, smooth, and will fit well in most ears (with the right tips) due to the smart contours of the design.

    It can be difficult after hearing TOTL gear to fully appreciate mere modest improvements offered by more mid/budget-tier gear. But, to ignore less impressive benefits is unfair to all of the work and research that clearly has gone into producing the ESR (or lots of other non-summit-fi gear…which is most gear!) There are unquestionably appreciable differences over mainstream consumer audio equipment. After all, it’s the journey to the ever-elusive top, and all the stops along the way that is what this hobby is all about. Each piece of gear we experience in our ascent has its own merits, and only helps us to further appreciate what we hear the higher we go.

    That said, once one has grown accustomed to the sound of TOTL IEMs (in my case, K10/A18/LX) baseline expectations for all other gear can get pushed mighty high.

    But let's be honest...if anyone’s really at fault here, it’s Empire Ears.

    The fact is that EE’s own TOTL products are just so damn good. Listening to the LX and ESR back to back is utterly and completely unfair.

    The ESR is more than capable of delivering a pleasing and satisfying listening experience in its own way, and is surely steps above any mainstream gear. For this accomplishment, the ESR deserves some credit.

    Thanks to Jack, Devon, the rest of the Empire Ears team, and HF for the chance to demo the ESR.
      Devon Higgins likes this.
  2. Tex Irie
    Hot Buttered Croissants: The 10 Day Dalliance
    Written by Tex Irie
    Published Sep 13, 2018
    Pros - The Width of the sound stage and instrument separation.
    The unparalleled comfort during extended listening sessions.
    The Musicality
    Cons - The tuning seems to have treble peaks that can be expressed as noticeable plosives or slight sibilance on male and female vocals at higher volumes.
    I participated in the Empire Ears Bravado|ESR Tour recently. I would especially like to thank Devon Higgins of Empire Ears for assisting and making this review possible. I had no idea what to expect as this brand was completely alien to me. Over the course of my summer vacation; I learned what makes Empire Ears standout among other Universal In Ear Monitors.



    DISCLAIMER: I am not an Audiophile. I just enjoy music like comfort food. You won’t find technical measurements or a standardized vernacular that describes something as subjective as sound. No Diana Krall reference tracks or obscure music that most people wouldn’t dream of playing in traffic. I listen to music for relaxation and entertainment. I appreciate the artistry and creative process regardless of genre. I also enjoy headphones, assorted audio equipment, and in ear monitors. So, anything that heightens the enjoyment to my daily soundtrack is worth investigating or spending unreasonable sums of revenue on.

    **I don’t get paid or compensated for this unfiltered stream of consciousness. These are the observations of an enthusiast.**

    ABOUT ME: A Seasoned Systems Engineer from Parts Unknown currently residing in the North Dallas Boondocks. A family man and mentor to young persons that need guidance related to career paths in Information Technology/ Information Security. I also dabble in the art of Barbecuing occasionally.

    My fondest memories of music were listening to vinyl records with my siblings and the harmonic yet jovial sounds of Musical Youth’s Pass the Dutchie reverberating off the walls of our room. I recall sitting in my Aunt’s home while she played The Commodores Easy like Sunday Morning. I can visualize the restless nights in the 80's with the radio blaring Philip Bailey & Phil Collins She’s an Easy Lover - Sugar Hill Section, New York City Summer of 85……


    When I opened these Empire Aegis cases I was impressed by the quality and the look of the Bravado and ESR. The Effect Audio Ares II cables accentuated the aura and premium mystique. Out of total curiosity I broke out all of my IEMs to see how they compared to Empire Ears offerings.


    In Ear Monitors:

    Campfire Audio Andromeda
    Empire Ears Bravado (Courtesy of Empire Ears)
    Empire Ears ESR (Courtesy of Empire Ears)
    Noble Audio Django
    Noble Audio K10 Universal
    Westone W60

    Sources & Configuration:

    LG V30--> Neutron--> Empire Ears ESR W/Effect Audio Ares II 2.5mm cable & Effect Audio 2.5mm Female to 3.5mm Male Adapter

    Apple iPhone 6s Plus--> Fiio Music--> Empire Ears ESR W/Effect Audio Ares II 2.5mm cable & Effect Audio 2.5mm Female to 3.5mm Male Adapter

    iBasso DX200--> Mango OS Player--> AMP 1--> Empire Ears ESR W/Effect Audio Ares II 2.5mm cable

    320 Kbps MP3 files
    16 bit/ 44.1 Khz FLAC files
    24 bit/ 96 Khz FLAC files

    Having 9 days of vacation and 3000 miles of road to traverse, I was giddier than a kid with their favorite box of mind numbingly sweet sugar shocks breakfast cereal.

    I immediately got my pouch of Symbio N Hybrid tips and checked out the Bravado first. I understood that all IEMs are incredibly dependent on the source, fit, and seal to achieve the best sound. My excitement was initially tempered when I tried with my LG V30, then I tried my iPhone 6s Plus, ending with the DX200. I concluded the Bravado wasn't quite my cup of tea after 6 hours of continuous critical listening.

    It took about 3 days for the ESR to grow on me. I initially noticed how comfortable the Bravado and ESR were. Much like Shure, Westone, and Noble IEMs they felt like they disappear when listening for extended periods of time. I found this comfort to be amazing for the size of Empire Ears IEMs.

    I tried the ESR with all my devices but ultimately rocked with the DX200, AMP 1, and ESR combination. I tend to listen to music in a dark room or on the couch with my eyes closed whenever I can. This usually helps me relax and focus on the placement of instruments. However, The ESR's sound stage sounded so wide I wasn't sure what kind of sorcery Empire Ears' Engineers managed to cram in these shells.

    Maybe it was the 3 Way Crossover, perhaps it was the Drivers, or possibly the Shell and Effect Audio Ares II cable. All I could hear was the expansive sound stage that felt like it was outside my head space and not between my ears. I was impressed with the punchy and distortion free guttural lows of the bass lines. The instrument separation was stellar. I clearly heard the ride of cymbals and high hats and minor details I've never noticed in music I'm very familiar with. Everything seemed to be rhythmic and musical. Every little detail in music seemed to envelope the senses. The snap in the snares, The Twinkle of the keys, The chords and strings sustaining and decaying, The strumming and fretting of acoustic instruments, The resonance of wind instruments, Echo, Reverb, Vocal panning, and Instrument position were nothing short of mesmerizing.

    My sole gripe would be the would be the occasional treble spikes that sound like noticeable plosives or slight sibilance at higher volume levels. That was the only wrinkle I could find in an otherwise impressive product. It completely ruined the Campfire Audio Andromeda for me. I felt the ESR comes off like an Andromeda with 3 drivers. I am legitimately intrigued to hear the upper echelon of Empire Ears offerings like the Legend X, Nemesis, and Phantom Universal models.
      Devon Higgins likes this.
  3. robertjwarren
    ESR all the way! and Bravado review...
    Written by robertjwarren
    Published Sep 7, 2018
    Pros - Clean balanced coverage of audio spectrum
    Supplied with quality cableage
    Cons - Cant come up with anything negative
    Bravado and ESR review

    This is my first review ever. I wanted to try these out and I sincerely appreciate being allowed to be part of the tour for these. So, a big thank you to Empire Ears!

    My first pair of semi-serious IEM’s were the Shure e2C’s (which I still have BTW). When I bought the Shure’s I was traveling cross-county by air quite a bit and thinking that the only way to drown out the inside-the-plane noise was either full size headphones with noise control circuitry or a smaller in-the-ear alternative. I DON’T like putting IEM’s in my ears, really. I don’t fly as much as I used to, but, now that the quality has risen so far, IEM’s are now the best and preferred way to get the best fidelity to my 60+ year old ears. I had Westone AC2 CIEM’s made about three years ago and they were a revelation to me about how IEM’s can sound at that time. My current IEM is the Earsonics ES3. I love the sound of these and whatever I throw at them in the way of music; they seem to fit and just sound right to me.

    The rigs that I used for the reviews:

    Fiio X1 > JDS Labs cMoyBB > IEM

    iPhone 7 Plus > Hiby app > AQ Dragonfly Red > IEM

    On both setups I only used the stock EA cables that came with the IEM’s.


    Neil Young – After the Gold Rush

    Beatles – Abbey Road

    Sonny Rollins – Newk’s Time

    Traffic – Low Spark

    Pink Floyd – DSOM

    Uncle Tupelo – Still Feel Gone

    Donald Fagen – The Nightfly

    Bravado Review

    I expected the Bravado to outperform the ES3’s and they did. They are definitely brighter and midrange/treble a touch cleaner than the ES3’s. On some of the tracks I thought maybe a touch too bright but after listening for the whole session, no I don’t think so. Bass is slightly better also. I would also say that the bass is rounder/deeper in tone than the ES3’s. I enjoyed them on a wide range of tunes that I listed above.

    ESR review

    I have never listened to a better IEM! And with less fatigue after say an hour of listening too. From low frequencies to high, I heard a better overall balanced sound with the ESR. If I was buying, the price difference between the Bravado and ESR would not be an issue. I would definitely go with the ESR.

    Both are highly recommended and should be auditioned if at all possible. That’s it, no pictures. You can find those on Head-Fi, youtube, etc.

    Thanks again Empire Ears.
      Devon Higgins likes this.
  4. Wiljen
    ESR - a true neutral platform for audio engineers
    Written by Wiljen
    Published Aug 14, 2018
    Pros - Extremely balanced sound signature, takes EQ well, highly revealing
    Cons - not the most musical signature, very unforgiving of poor source material, cost.
    First off, a heartfelt thank you to Devon and the Empire Ears crew for entrusting me with both the Bravado and the ESR as part of the review tour. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with both and look forward to trying additional members of the new product lines.


    With the Kit and shell of the ESR and the Bravado being the same, if you have read my Bravado review, you can skip to the sound notes as the other sections are going to be extremely similar.


    The outer package is a side opening pressboard box done in flat black with a silver Empire Ears logo on the top and the Name emblazoned on the flap. While not particularly obnoxious, I will say that Empire missed no opportunity to brand absolutely everything in the package. Inside the box is first a cardstock quick start guide again emblazoned with the large wings. Under that a large black drawstring cloth bag also with large silver logo. Under that, the hard case. The hard case has an aluminum inset in the lid with the logo, branding, and model designation written in black. The interior of the hard case is well thought out with protective compartments for each earpiece and a larger compartment for storing the cable and a small compartment for the cleaning tool at the end opposite the earpiece compartments. Under the hard case is a smaller cloth bag and a set of cleaning clothes. (Also in matching black). Honestly, if each piece was seen independently, the branding is tasteful and not overstated. When taken in all at once during the unboxing process, it can get a bit overwhelming as the cleaning tool was the only component that I did not find an Empire logo or branding on.



    As previously mentioned, the package comes with a good assortment of bags, boxes, and wipes, but the tips, cable accessories etc… were all shipped separately. This may be a tour thing or it may be that with the arrival of two sets of IEMS that the shared items were not duplicated so were sent outside the packages. Accessories include the previously mentioned hard case, large cloth bag (that the hard case fits in) small cloth bag, cleaning wipes, and tip cleaner, in addition to Final Audio Type E tips, an Effect Audio 4.4 to 2.5 Balanced adapter, a 2.5mm balanced to 3.5 Single ended adapter, and a package of alcohol cleansing wipes. A cardstock page with details of the ESR and Bravado was provided as well and since both models are included, I would assume that item was specifically for the tour and not a standard item shipped with retail purchases.

    Overall the kit is fairly complete although a couple additional tip options (Comply, spin-fits) would be welcomed as none of the provided tips was perfect fit for my ears. (more later).


    Build IEM/ Cable

    The IEMs themselves are a deep gloss black with a subtle Empire logo hon the faceplate and the model and serial number written on the under-side of the earpiece. Build quality is fantastic as seams are blended so well as to be difficult to detect without magnification. The bi-pin connector is so well fitted that were the color not slightly different it would effectively look like it was one solid part. Had I not previously been told the shell was a high impact plastic, I would have thought they were made of ceramic as the polish is that good and the seams that invisible. Overall, a masterful job. The only difference in the ESR and bravado in the shells is the number of ports in the nozzle as the Bravado sports 2 ports while the ESR has 3.

    Both models were supplied with Effect Audio cables which have a sterling reputation for performance at with a retail of $150 for the cable alone, they should indeed perform well. The cable itself is thicker than some but still very pliable and microphonics were kept to a minimum as the earhooks on the cables were effective in preventing cable weight from transferring to the earpieces themselves. My complaints with the cables center around two items. First, nowhere on the length of either cable exists any strain relief. Not at the jack, the splitter, or the earpieces. For a cable in this price range, I expected that they be designed in a way assure longevity. I am probably harder on my iems than some as I wear them almost constantly during the work day and if purchasing the Bravado or ESR for my personal collection I would purchase a different cable that I feel offers better longevity.


    The Second issue is the adaptors. Quite simply, they do not work well and should be avoided. I had numerous cut-outs while using either of the adapters and slightly twisting the connector in the adaptor would cause the channel to come back but at the expense of clicks or pops in the sound while moving the connector. If you need two different cables for use with different DAPs or amplifiers, I would strongly suggest you forego the adaptors and buy additional cables. I used a Norne Audio 3.5 Single Ended to bi-pin cable to do my single ended testing once I realized the adaptor could not be made usable.


    The earpiece is on the large side but is deceptive in that it weighs very little. They sat in my ear without trouble and the earhook on the cable makes them fell weightless. Isolation is only average as the bulk of the earpiece sits well behind the ear canal. I did have some trouble finding a set of tips that both fit my ear and were comfortable. The large tips were too large to wear comfortably for extended periods while the mediums were just small enough to lose seal when I moved. The nozzles are standard sized so a quick search of my tips yielded several pairs that worked and I ended up settling on comply foams as they offered the best combination of comfort and seal. They likely tamed the treble just a bit but in testing with large spin-fits, I found that my observations held consistent so I do not think tip rolling dramatically influenced my listening experience.



    Bass: The ESR is well extended and capable of delivering good sub-bass rumble when called upon, but is extremely well controlled. Mid-bass is tight and articulate if very slightly behind the lower mids. I heard no mid-bass bleed and the transition from mid-bass to mid is very clean with no coherency issues on the transitions.

    Mids: Mids are again extremely well controlled and tight with the lower mids being slightly (and I mean very slightly) elevated in comparison to the upper mids.

    Treble: Highs are deceptive in that the ESR is extremely well extended but not forward of the rest of the signature. I heard no tendency toward sibilance even with what I would call a fairly aggressive attack speed that makes high-hat sound particular realistic.

    With the ESR being designed as a studio reference, rather than focus on the normal low/mid/high of my reviews, the focus needs to be on accuracy, detail retrieval, soundstage, imaging, and dynamics. I say this as the ESR is the blank canvas on which an audio engineer paints his masterpiece. As such, we expect all things in equal balance at the outset and any tweaks to be immediately translated into elevations or decreases in the resultant sound. The ESR does a great job in this respect. It is indeed just about ruler flat and responds to any change in EQ proportionally. While the ESR at first tends to be a bit dull or lifeless, it is quite possibly the most tunable IEM I have had the pleasure of trying. Perhaps the best thing about the ESR is the fact that EQ adjustments have very little bleed over into surrounding ranges and allow the user to tweak far more than most other IEMs allow. I could make the ESR bass heavy enough to satisfy all but the most ardent basshead or bright enough to bother my dog without tainting the rest of the signature. This is an amazing accomplishment and to me is proof that Empire’s discussion of their crossover technology goes well beyond marketing speak.

    All that tweaking doesn’t help, if you aren’t hearing every element in the music, and for that reason the ESR has been given exceptional resolution with micro-detail being rendered effortlessly. This lends to vocals being well reproduced and nuances of varying recordings of the same song are readily evident.

    Soundstage is harder to judge as it is very track dependent and the ESR is extremely unforgiving of poor recordings. Most of us find that as the quality of our gear improves, the size of our music collection decreases as we recognize more and more faults in things we had previously enjoyed. The ESR will definitely help you sort your music collection into the well mastered and not so well mastered categories. When fed a well-recorded and mastered LP like the Cowboy Junkies Trinity Sessions, the ESR is capable of delivering a soundstage with good depth, width, and height and a genuine feeling of space.

    The same recording also does a great job of displaying the dynamics the ESR is capable of. From the almost whispered vocals to the thunderous bass guitar, the ESR handles it all well and never feels unnatural or strained even when pushed toward either limit.


    For those who are opposed to using EQ, the ESR is going to be bland, lifeless, and boring even with its immense detail level. For those willing to tinker with EQ, the ESR is a chameleon that is capable of being as subtle or as raucous as you encourage it to be. If I could only have one IEM, I might well chose the ESR since I could tune it differently for different genre or differing moods.

    The ESR is very definitely a niche product, it does not offer the most musical signature and is not likely to have people waxing poetic over the choir of angels in their ears while using them. For those who are in the business of critical listening or need to have an exact baseline to work from without any coloration or obscuration of elements, the ESR is for you. I found the ESR to be easily more resolving than HD700 and on par with HD800 over ears while providing much better isolation and less treble coloration than either. That is pretty high praise coming from me as I still think the HD800 is one of the best ever made and the 700 isnt far behind when looking for an analytical reference.


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  5. Army-Firedawg
    A studio iem indeed.
    Written by Army-Firedawg
    Published Aug 7, 2018
    Pros - Extremely revealing, very flat response, very responsive to eq, build, strong isolation, ideal for studio use.
    Cons - very flat response, not really good for music, large frame (everyone might not be able to wear them), 2.5mm-3.5mm adapter often didn't have good contact,
    I’ve reviewed a fair bit of headphones, several of them are so called “studio” headphones, others call themselves reference headphones. I, personally, don’t really give much weight when people or company call headphones a “studio” headphone because I’ve seen and spoken with producers who use Beats as their studio headphone. From my inexperienced and ignorant point of view I’d like to believe a studio product has a very flat frequency response. Now, I personally see a flat headphone and a reference headphone as very different beings. Flat makes everything sound the same, nothing in particular stands out or is different. Reference is a product that is very accurate sounding to what it would be if you heard them in person.

    Why do I think a studio product should have a flat response? So the audio master can make adjustments while the artist is singing and hears what he/she wants the final product to be. If he/she was listening through, say a bassy headphone, he/she might decrease the bass because it sounds as if it’s coming across too heavy when in actuality it’s the headphones. So here we have Empire Ears studio iem offering, the ESR which is short for Empire Studio Reference. Will it meet what I believe a studio product is (which as I said earlier, is out of complete ignorance to actually mastering recordings)? Let’s find out.

    A little about me

    I would like to say that first and foremost I am NOT an “audiophile” but rather an audio enthusiast. I listen to music to enjoy it. Do I prefer a lossless source? Yes, of course. But I can still be very happy streaming from Pandora or even my YouTube “My Mix” playlist. I also prefer equipment that sounds the best to me personally regardless of what frequency response it has or rather or not it's “sonically accurate” and I always have and shall continue to encourage others to do the same.

    I'm a firefighter for both the civilian and military sector and the cliché of wanting to do this since I was born couldn't be more present with me. I've worked hard over the last several years to earn this position and now it's time for me to work even harder to keep it.

    My interests/hobbies are powerlifting, fishing and relaxing to audio products and reviewing them to help other decide on what products would work for them. Few things make me as an audio enthusiast/review feel more accomplished than when someone tells me that I helped them find the type of sound they've always been looking for.

    Now, the sound signature I personally favor is a relaxing, warm and sensual sound that just drifts me away in the emotional experience of the music being performed. Yes, accuracy is still important but I will happily sacrifice some of that if I'm presented with a clean, warm sound that can wisp me away into an experience that makes me yearn for more.

    My ideal signature are that of respectably forward mids and upper bass range with the bass being controlled but with some slight decay. I like my treble to have nice extension and detail reveal with a smooth roll off up top as to not become harsh in the least. Examples of products that have given me chills and keep giving me the yearning for more feels are the (in no particular order) Bowers & Wilkins P7, Oppo PM-1/2, Empire Ears Hermes VI & Zeus XIV, Audeze LCD-XC, Meze Headphones 99 Classics.

    Equipment used at least some point during the review


    -LG V20/HP Pavilion

    -Playing Pandora, YouTube, and various format personal music


    I am by no means sponsored by this company or any of its affiliates. They were kind enough to send me a product for an arranged amount of time in exchange for my honest opinion. I am making no monetary compensation for this review.

    The following is my take on the product being reviewed. It is to be taken “with a grain of salt” per say and as I always tell people, it is YOUR opinion that matters. So regardless of my take or view on said product, I highly recommend you listen to it yourself and gauge your own opinion.

    The Opening Experience

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    *EDIT* Your iem's will NOT come with tips already attached to them, this was an oversight on my part.

    Why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience

    Please allow me to explain why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience with a product. Maybe it’s due to my southern roots in the hills of eastern Kentucky, but I’ve always been raised under the pretense of when you introduce yourself to someone for the first time you present yourself with confidence, class, character, pride, and competence. You greet the other person with a true warm smile, eye contact and a firm handshake. Anything less or short implies to other person that you either don’t care about them, are too full of yourself, too busy to be bothered by the likes of them, or worse, just generally disrespectful.

    As a consumer, I take this same belief to when I open a new product. Why? Because think about it this way. How else can a company introduce themselves to their customers? How do they present their products? Are they packaged with pride and presented in such a way that makes the listener eager to listen to them? Or maybe they’re just wrapped up and placed in an available space. How about the box itself? Is it bogged down with jargon that says look at this, look what I can do. I’m better than anything on the market and here’s why read this and check out that. Or, is the package clean, simplistic and classy? As if saying to the customer ‘Good day, pleasure to meet your acquaintance. Please give me a listen and allow me to show you what I can do and allow my actions to speak louder than my words.’

    This is why I feel so strongly about the initial presentation of a product, and I feel it’s truly a shame more people don’t. But with all that aside, let’s discuss how this products introduced itself shall we?

    The Bravado and Empire Studio Reference (ESR) came together so I will copy and paste this section on both reviews.

    But the iems from Empire Ears, from my Hermes VI so long ago to those of today I watch on YouTube have remained consistent in their well thought out and delivered impressions. To start with, you’re given a solid black box with only the Empire Ears logo printed on the front. As you fold the treasure chest back you’re greeted with a large, Empire Ears branded, carrying pouch that you can put everything inside the chest inside, the warranty and instruction manual, an Empire Ears branded cleaning silk like material cloth, a smaller carrying pouch that doesn’t fit more than the iems themselves, and lastly the Empire Ears plated with a custom logo of the buyers choosing hard case. As you open the super protective hard case you’ve the Empire Ears ESR iems equipped standard with the Effect Audio Ares II cable (terminated in buyers choice {3.5mm unbalanced, 2.5mm balanced, 4.4mm balanced}), and an ear wax cleaning tool.

    Looking at the ESR itself, the only external difference I could see, is that the horn has 3 vent ports instead of the 2 on the Bravado. The shell design has remained the same from the Olympus lineup that I did a complete impression of way back when which is rather on the large side. Now, for products like their Zeus, which has 14 drivers, this is understandable, but for all of them, I think it’s rather large. The model sent to me is solid black with the “EE” logo in gold print but the buyer has an almost limitless customization ability and, at least from my personal experience and those who I’ve spoken with, the people working there are amazingly friendly and go above and beyond to make the buyer truly happy.

    This, is what I wish more companies would be like. I’ve yet to have the pleasure of shaking Jack’s or any of his crew’s hand but I’d imaging it’d be as pride filled as these products came.


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    The construction of the Bravado and ESR iem, like the unboxing, is exactly the same so this section will also be mimicked between my 2 reviews.

    I went a little too far in my unboxing and talked about the construction a little too much with its frame size and design but oh well I’ll just continue here. The frame itself is made of entirely standard plastic so nothing special there. The horn is the standard iem size (I do not know the exact measurement but it’s the size I see on the majority of iems) so for those who use aftermarket tips you’ll likely be able to use them with the all Empire Ears universal products. The cable is also DETACHABLE, which ,as I say in all my reviews and will continue to, is something that I feel should be standard. Though the iem is made from plastic I’m completely confident that it’s a very well built product. I can, sadly, personally attest from dropping my Hermes VI’s that they can handle a good size drop without even scratching (at least in my lucky case [I do NOT advise testing this yourself]). On the inside of the iem you’ve the product name printed along with, what I would assume to be, a serial number or a personal iem identification number. Now, the only difference between the ESR and Bravado, exteriorly, is that there’s 3 vent ports on the horn on the ESR whereas the Bravado only has 2.

    The cable is beautifully made and feels as premium as it looks, which it should for it is a $150 cable if bought separately, and is made, according to the Effect Audio website, from 26 AWG UPOCC Litz Copper. Something that I’ve REALLY liked about them is that, at least to my ears, they don’t have any microphonics. It doesn’t matter if I’m just sitting or walking around, I haven’t heard any cable feedback from it brushing against my clothes. Now, an issue I did have is not in the cable itself but in the 2.5mm to 3.5mm adaptor from Effect Audio that Empire Ears included in the tour. The majority of the time the signal was nice and clean, but occasionally, for the only reason I can conclude is it isn’t making a completely solid connection the whole time, the left side will go out until I tap the adaptor. Nothing groundbreaking, and a very quick and easy fix but for something that costs SEVENTY DOLLARS, I feel this shouldn’t exist.

    Overall the build quality of the iem is standard but also sturdy. They’re very lightweight but very large. Assuming you take proper care of these, they should last you for several years to come. My personal Empire Ears ciems have well over a thousand hours listening time from the almost 3 years time with them and they’re showing no sign of slowing down as I doubt yours will. Before I finish this section I do need to express some concern that I’ve found. Because the frame is so large, people with smaller ears (and/or ear canals) may not be able to wear this iem in either its universal or custom variant. I recommend you contact Empire Ears for help with this if you’ve smaller ears and have concerns.


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    Because the Bravado and ESR iem share the exact same framework, their comfort levels are also exactly the same. So, like my previous 3 sections, this section will be copied between this and the ESR review.

    Once you get past the large framework of the iem, I personally find them no different than any other. They’re deceptively lightweight so I forget they’re even in my ear. Actually, that’s likely because the only contact they have with my ear is the horn and corresponding tip. So laying on your side with these is 100% out of the question. But in terms of long term listening durations, I’ve personally gone in excess of 3+ hours with these in listening in one session and have absolutely zero comfort issues or felt the need to readjust them (not that I can really adjust something that’s only making contact with my ear canal anyways). They do isolate VERY well. If you’re wanting to just listen to your music and don’t want to hear what’s going on around you them you’ll probably find yourself very happy with these (and I just used the default tips that came with these).

    To conclude my thoughts on the comfort of these iems, if I’m listening to them in a position that doesn’t involve my side then I’ve not had any issues with them. I do have concerns with those with smaller ears not being able to listen to them but in the same sentence they wouldn’t have any comfort issues because they can’t get them in their ears.


    Alas, here we are. The answer to what I asked in the very first section of this review. So, does it? The Empire Ears ESR is, to my ears, to date the flattest sounding product I’ve ever heard. The entire frequency band, to my ears, all sounds the same. For recreational use, I find this incredibly boring and bland. The ESR sounds like it’s a slab of clay ready to be molded into a masterpiece at the hands of a skills sculptor. Going back to my intro. this is exactly what I imagined a proper studio product sounding and/or being like. With this in mind I actually played with the EQ a little bit (and for those who are unaware, I really dislike meddling with the EQ. The way I see it is if I have to EQ a product to make it sound the way I want it then it’s not the product I want) and I must say, the ESR responds to equalizing amazingly well. Now, take that for what it’s worth because I don’t have a lot of experience testing it on products but I made the ESR sound completely different when playing around with the settings, which is what I’d imagine the master would hear as he/she’s mastering an artist.

    With the above said, I reviewed it on its own merit as is. So going back to its sound, I find that it’s not to accurate to the recording as a whole. I listen to Adele’s album 25 quite a bit on VARIOUS different products and I’ve gotten a pretty solid idea how it should sound. When listening through the ESR though the vocals sounded fine the bass and treble sounded mellowed and subdued. The bass specifically sounds like it’s in a sound chamber. I’ll use the song “When We Were Young” as a prime example. The bass should be deep and have a good bit of decayed resonance in it, but the ESR produces it, flat, is the only way I can really explain it. Treble’s the same way. I’ll go into further detail in the individual segments but, in my opinion, the ESR is not an iem I would recommend for musical enjoyment, or even critical listening. After spending several hours listening to them I’m confident in saying these are made to be used in a studio/mastering like setting solely.

    Another aspect that will make a strong studio product is the ability to expose all minute manners of detail present in a recording so that the master can ensure everything he/she’s hearing is exactly what the listener will hear on whatever equipment they will be using. Now, my goodness does the ESR excel in this area. I’m blessed enough to have several, quite high end, products in my possession, rather it be personal ownership or on loan, I get to hear some of the best the industry has to offer and though the Empire Ears ESR is quite a bit less than several of these mentioned products I’m finding that I’m discovering subtle cues in music that I’ve never heard before on my other products. To add to this the ESR’s ability of special awareness and placement is top tier for a headphone, let alone for an iem. It doesn’t matter it I’m listening to an acapella band like Pentatonix, or a full ensemble which Yanni very often utilizes I can listen and know where instruments/vocalists are and the imaging that comes from that is beautiful. Listen to the song “I Hold On” by Dierks Bentley. The melody continues throughout but you really only need to hear the first 10 seconds to hear what I’m talking about. But the imagine and separation in the ESR, when on a well recorded track, can give an impressive out of head experience that I’ve heard open back headphones not even come close to.

    Sadly, as with many high tier class products, the ESR doesn’t play well with lower bit quality (mp3) music. Several songs I’ve tried with, with symbols especially, have a lot of sibilance in it. The only time I was really able to experience this is when I was watching some AMV’s on YouTube (perfect example I know [yet I also link to YouTube videos for you to hear the songs yourself :/]) and there’s several songs that there’s either a note that is way off how I know it sounds or the whole track itself just doesn’t sound quite right. The ESR just spotlights all the detail, including the hiss and crackles of the low bitrate youtube allows, and just spotlights them. But let me talk about the individual aspects of the ESR so that I may hopefully explain how I’ve found they sound a little bit better.


    The highs on the ESR is quite nice. Though the ESR keeps it in check so that it doesn’t stray too far from the rest of the sounds, the detail and energy is still very much there. Listen to this very lovely piece by Saint-Saens. It’s very treble heavy (not sharp at all) and showcases the ESR’s ability to control the violin while keeping its energy and detail ever present.


    The vocals are where I believe the soul of the music lies. Though I don’t find any deficiencies in the mid section, I also don’t find any hot spots either. The artists come through very accurately, regardless if they’re male or female, but the overall flat sound of the ESR just makes the vocals tie in with everything else in the track. Now, their emotion and their emphasise still comes through so I can still very much retrieve the overall pace of the song they were going for.

    On a side note on the level of detail you’ll hear when listening through the ESR. When listening to a live recording or a vlog etc… you can very often hear the saliva from the tongue as the person talking begins to speak. So yeah, you’re going to hear whatever lovely that microphone is recording, without prejudice.


    As mentioned above, the bass is, or at least to me was, the first thing I noticed was very mellowed out. Don’t mistake these for being a bass light headphone because they’re not. The bass is there but it’s just muffled. Not like it sounds distorted or anything like that but it’s like the bass is trying its hardest to push itself forward but the ESR is forcing to stay back and stay right in line with same sound level of the rest of the audio.

    This’ll be a rather short section because I feel I will just be reiterating things I’ve already said but listen to the song “Lift Me Up” by Five Finger Death Punch. This provides a rock solid example of exactly what I’m trying to get across. The bass is still there and punchy, but it’s not free.



    My overall thoughts on the Empire Studio Reference (or ESR) is that it was very difficult for me to review. I’m not a professional, in any aspects, of music so I’m admittedly ignorant to what makes a good “studio” product and only have my naive ideals. But from what I can listen to on them from an audio enthusiast aspect I find the sound to be very bland and unenjoyable for musical listening (media is even worse). Everything just sounds the same and unspecial and, at least for me personally, I really had a hard time listening to them but can fully understand the utilitarian aspect of what they’re designed for. When used in an environment where you’re editing sounds and need to be able to hear the immediate feedback and what it’ll sound like to the end listener, this is what, I’d image, you’re wanting for it responds to EQ incredibly well. It’s construction, though very large (and maybe too big for some listeners to even be able to use), it build very well AND has detachable cables. The customizational abilities that Empire Ears offers, and their customer service and desire to make the buyer completely happy with their product is something I’ve yet to experience in any other company I’ve done business with. So if you’re a music enthusiast and want an iem to just enjoy music and media with, then I’d truthfully recommend you look into the Empire Ears X series, for I honestly believe you’ll be much happier with that sound. However, if you’re a professional and are looking for a iem that provides incredible isolation and response to the faintest of adjustment and want to ensure you’re hearing every available detail in the recording, then you’ll find strong solace in the ESR.

    Also, make sure to check out my unboxing and review videos. They’re pretty awesome AND you getta put a face to the Army-Firedawg name. If this review helped you out at all please hit that thumbs up button for it really helps me out a lot. Till next time my friends, stay safe.


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      NoMythsAudio and Devon Higgins like this.
  6. ShyamS
    My take on Empire Ears Empire Studio Reference (E.
    Written by ShyamS
    Published Mar 29, 2018
    Pros - Good build, Detailed, crisp, good soundstage, comes with Effect Audio Aries II cable, excellent for critical listening
    Cons - Not forgiving, not suitable for all genres of music
    My take on Empire Ears Empire Studio Reference (E.S.R):

    The build quality is superb on the shell you have Empire ears logo engraved in silver and the shell itself is black a bit transparent like you can barely see the drivers. It has detachable cable and it comes with Effect Audio Ares II 3.5 mm cable. The isolated is great too. It comes with foam tip and spin fit tips in S,M & L.


    Now the sound:
    It’s not yet burned in (I been on wearing this for hours now can’t put it down) This is my first review and I never been strong with words when it comes to music but I’ll try to explain the best I can. I’m sorry if it’s not accurate or if you see mistakes. I have Dunu DN2000 before this one. My sources is iBasso DX50, MacBook Air, HTC U11 but primarily its DX50.

    So started with listening to one of my favourites What A Wonder World by Louis Armstrong, I was blow away by the details. Soundstage is huge! His voice is so clear and I can tell every instruments apart, that too very clearly and It’s not all in my face but far apart. I just loved it. I can’t believe how much details I can hear

    Then I moved on to Hotel California (Hell Freezes Over version) The first guitar part I can hear the string all so clearly then the thud thud of drum!! the impact was just amazing. It feels like I’m sitting in the audience. I can clearly tell instruments apart. Don’s vocals are so crisp. The soundstage of this thing is amazing. (Sorry I have no words to express what I am here here, but I’m getting goosebumps as I’m listening to this song so that should tell you something and big big smile on my face)

    Next one I heard is Evanescence - Immortal, I never felt so emotional, her voice is crisp and clear with so much emotions. I have listened to this so many times but this is the first time I can hear everything like the violin and piano I can tell them apart, I can hear the background vocals at times and it’s not all cluttered like I used to on my other IEM. E.S.R is impressing me with every songs I heard so far.

    I decided to try classical this time, Wolfgang Rihm - Musik fur Oboe und Orchester. If I close my eye I can feel like someone is playing Oboe in front of me, it felt so life like. I can hear the artist lips touch the reed while he goes to the next musical note (This composition is Oboe driven) then the thunder of tuba is so life like and as mentioned in above I can hear the instrument apart. It’s a joy to listen to this piece of music especially on E.S.R I never enjoyed this much. It feels like you are sitting right there when all this happens. Then I listened to “Styx und Lethe” and feeling is the same!!

    Now I decided to try with some pop songs. I started off with She Will be Loved by Maroon 5, I felt the too much treble like song is too bright can’t listen to long (Maybe it will be better after proper burn in) It’s not as much “fun” to listen to on E.S.R like it’s not forgiving (duh! It’s a monitoring IEM, I guess that’s expected lol) Also tried Alessia Cara’s Scars To your beautiful, I couldn’t get through the song like all cluttered and vocals music all pushed together, maybe badly recorded track (?)

    Then tried Royals by Lorde (If you haven’t listened to this one, it’s a bass heavy track) Wow! Bass is controlled like it doesn’t over power the vocal and sub bass is really good too. Even this track I felt too bright (?)

    I’m not a fan of Hip Hop expect for very few songs so wanted to try that while I’m at it. So tried Numb / Encore (Feat. Linking Park - Jay Z) This was surprisingly good! Like the music didn’t overpower the vocals and bass was good and not that bright like other tracks I tried.

    Ok I’ll stop now lol If you read until this point, thank you! As you might noticed I don’t know much of audiophile terms so just wrote what I felt.

    Now to the conclusion:

    E.S.R is exceptional IEM maybe I’m new to high end IEM. It is neutral IEM but slight bump in mids I think. Vocal are really really good in IEM along with classical and jazz. I felt like it’s not great for POP or Hip-Hop music out there except for some. Like I mentioned before E.S.R is not forgiving when it comes to bad recording. I’m sure with better source this will shine even better. Thank you Ethan for helping me decide and Empire Ears for this amazing IEM.